What if no LKY? Time to find out


DB-30hikersAfter lunch at Mui Wo’s Bahce Turkish restaurant yesterday, a hike over the hills. You normally expect to encounter a few people in twos and threes up there, but I ran into some walkers who had apparently decided to enjoy a quiet day in the country as a group of 30.

When I arrived in Discovery Bay, I found the famously expatriate settlement in a state of shock and outrage. The previous evening, excited residents reported, a group of kids had run into the community’s drinking/commercial/transport hub and raised the alarm about a security guard having beaten a young child. Details were hazy. The kid was 7 or 12; the guard worked for the shopping centre not the main security force; the kid had a reddened face or bruised ribs; the guard had run away with kids and/or parents in pursuit. What was certain was that passers-by had taken photos, the cops had arrested the alleged assailant and – most of all – this was a grievous outrage.

No-one I heard mentioned the death penalty as such. But the mood was that if furious protective parents had caught the guard they would have lynched him, and he would have deserved it. One resident repeatedly and angrily stressed that everyone had to demand action and answers to make sure the affair didn’t get buried.

Common sense and the law tell us that a security guard (or anyone) should only whack someone else in self-defence. Observation, hearsay and plaintive appeals for good behaviour in public notices from property management also suggest that at least a few kids SCMP-DBguardin Disco Bay may be bratty and spoilt. I wouldn’t want to pass judgement. (A little South China Morning Post item today puts the excitement into perspective.)

However, I would venture to guess that the kid in question and all or most of his buddies were white/Western, English-speaking and well-off, while the security guard was Chinese or South Asian and relatively poor. And that the residents’ rage reflects deeper sensitivities and fears within what is essentially a middle-class, racially/culturally exclusive gated community. Under siege by the mysterious teeming Oriental hordes just a short ferry-ride away across the water, etc. (Maybe the 30 hikers were fleeing in fear of pogroms.)

Which brings us rather neatly to the death of Lee Kuan Yew. The father-figure of modern Singapore built his sterile but prosperous city-state on paternalism and authoritarianism rooted in a fear of the inferior peoples surrounding the place. Only his leadership and genius kept the tranquil and air-conditioned island safe from the surrounding steaming jungles full of resentful, impoverished Malay Muslims, pirates and cannibals.

Lee’s drawn-out passing allowed obituary writers to polish and update the epics that have no doubt been on file for years. Philip Bowring’s is probably second-to-none. Among his good points: Singapore’s prosperity came naturally via geography and history rather than through Lee’s guidance (Hong Kong did equally well without state control), and the vindictive and spiteful treatment of critics was unjustified in terms of enabling stability or development (as Hong Kong also proved).

Which is more accurate or fashionable or edgy or provocative? To go with the ‘Lee Kuan Yew as towering genius’ school of thought, or to recall the man as vicious and even shallow – or whatever word we use for late-20th Century eugenicists?

Either way, the real question is for his surviving leaders and citizens in Singapore: what now? Many years ago, I remember a Hong Kong colleague’s sadness and anger at the fact that what was then a British colony was the freest Chinese community in the world, with ex-colony Singapore coming next, Taiwan’s police state coming third and the Communist Mainland last. Since then, Taiwan has gone democratic and leaped to first place, and Hong Kong is being brought closer under Beijing’s paranoid one-party control. If the Chinese government continues to suppress Hong Kong’s media and judiciary, Singapore will get the number-two spot by default. As it is, Singapore is already making timid moves to ease up.

Rather than ponder, like a book I have or one Twitter account, what things would be like without Lee Kuan Yew, Singaporeans should ask what is now possible without him. Just as Hong Kong would if the CCP breathed its last.


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9 Responses to What if no LKY? Time to find out

  1. Mui Wo's Housewives' Choice says:

    Never slag off DB – the place acts as a voluntary concentration camp mopping-up large numbers of disagreeable people. As such, it is a fantastic piece of social engineering.

  2. PCC says:

    Put me firmly in the “towering genius” camp. Mr. Lee’s critics are the petty and spiteful ones. RIP Mr. Lee Kwan Yew.

  3. PD says:

    Lee Kuan Yew was a deeply flawed genius.

    He deserves great praise for safeguarding Singapore’s independence and viability, surrounded as it was at the beginning by potentially hostile Malays, who of course had been largely swamped in Singapore itself.

    But his strengths as a young man — decisiveness, intelligence, farsightedness, independence of thought — ossified into arrogance, vindictiveness and pigheadedness as he aged, not too gracefully.

  4. Stephen says:

    A credit to Philip Bowring for an excellent balanced obituary. Frankly, thus far, all I‘ve heard from the money honeys’ and pup reporters’ on Bloomberg and the like is adulterating gushing praise without looking at the considerable darker side of the man. What LKY and Singapore do well is create the illusion of democracy, a fair legal system and inclusive society. I’m sure the CCP would like to create that form of democracy and legal system in Hong Kong. However, fortunately society here can see right through the clumsy CCP illusion.

  5. cccrrrgh says:

    Bahce and the China Bear are both changing hands, I hear….

  6. davy jones says:

    Lee Kwan-yew.

    Well, a dictatorial and a ruthless man. And Hemlock, if you can recall, I sent you an e-mail about a former UK’s very senior Labour politician describing him as egotistical.

    Bowring’s summing up was fairly accurate but as I recall Lee Kwan-yew was of Nonya extraction. His article gives the impression that he was of pure Chinese extraction.
    But, I think that Lee Kwan-yew knew that Singapore had the potential as Raffle’s had recognized. His so called economic ideas were based on Singapore’s unique geographical location.

    He was absolutely ruthless with is political enemies. The leader of the Barisan Socialis was locked up for many many years. This leads me to an aside.
    I spent about 1 year in Singapore as an elderly teenager. Politically, the place was still unstable.
    I caught a bus from RAF Changi ( via the now defunct Changi Bus Co. ) to go to RAF Seletar. It was a Friday night as I recall. Changi youth club was closed that night so I hoped I would meet my girlfriend.
    I had to change buses in a district called Geylang. When I got there, there was a full scale riot going on. The Barisan Socialis had organised the riot. The Chinese and Malays were beating the shit out of each other and the riot police were beating the shit out of everybody!!!
    Anyway, jumped into a taxi and arrived at Seletar OK.

  7. dimuendo says:

    Ironical that one of Lew kwan yee’s more personally important directives, that he be allowed to die naturally (and thus with a modicum of dignity) was so thoroughly flouted by his son and the medical profession.

    As all know, Singapore has “democracy” but no freedom, whole Hong Kong has no demoscracy but does (still, at time of typing) have freedom.

    PS Hemlock has gone down in my eyes for eating at Bahce. Awful food, several better, more hospitable places.

  8. Qian Jin says:

    1. @ “Hong Kong did equally well without state control” Excuse me ? You obviously never set foot in this place until the 1980s . Until that decade, under British rule, teachers were not even allowed to mention politics in schools and local cinemas could not show Hollywood films with Western leading actors made up as “Chinamen”. Even Elsie Tu (then Elliot ) was almost locked up for accusing (totally correctly) the government of extensive corruption, while simultaneously daring not to tow the party line while serving on Hong Kong’s only and partially elected Urban Council. The latter’s only trusted function was organizing the cleaning of public toilets and bringing to the city annually the Vienna boys choir to sing at the City Hall. The late senior government official Denis Bray, in retirement once bragged how he sat as Chairman of the “Committee (for monitoring and neutering) On Local Pressure Groups”.
    2. @” Since then, Taiwan has gone democratic and leaped to first place”
    Who says so? They’re still eating dog meat in the back streets and have only a short stretch of high (but not very fast) speed rail , barely better than the Welsh narrow-gauge steam railways. I am also struggling to recall which massive Maersk Line container ship calls in at Keelung weekly on its way to restock US Walmart malls.

  9. Welshmun says:

    Qian Jin’s second point was brutishly racialist on two fronts, thus revealing an imbecile who lets himself down in a forlorn attempt at humour.

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